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Back peddling won’t save brands that look for an easy ride

More than 20 thousand accidents have been attributed to treadmills including two thousand involving children under the age of eight, according to the consumer product safety commission in the USA. Between 2018 and 2020, it received reports of 17 deaths related to the use of a treadmill, including one involving a 5-year-old. Most recently the Peloton Treadmill Plus was singled out by the firm’s boss John Foley after the death of a 6-year-old.

Imagine the hypothetical comparison: “more than 20 thousand accidents involving trains have been attributed to the Hitachi 800 high-speed trains including two thousand involving children under the age of eight”. That’s not true of course but it highlights a remarkable attitudinal amnaesia often adopted by firms who think they can ‘tough it out’ when things start to go wrong.

Now, not all those 20 thousand are anything to do with Peloton. Trouble is, given the recent publicity, the chances are that any residual perception of future problems will link like lightning back to their troubled brand. This is why it is even more surprising that the firm didn’t issue their warning to the public for more than 2 months after the 6-year-olds death.

And it’s not the first time that Peloton has adopted Oscar Wilde’s notion that there’s one thing worse than being talked about: 18 months ago they faced a backlash and ridicule after a Christmas commercial, a 30-second ad in which a man gives a woman one of the company’s stationary bikes as a holiday gift, was widely shared online. “A Peloton?” the woman exclaims after she uncovers her eyes and sees the bike in her large living room, complete with a Christmas tree and fireplace.

In contrast, and in anticipation of a huge public – and emotional – backlash, train companies took the awkward decision to cease running any and all of their Hitachi 800’s which may have hairline cracks in order to check them.  They didn’t just take one or two off for spot checks and keep quiet about it. They removed the entire fleet from use resulting in massive disruption and potential – through short-term – opprobrium from passengers caught up in the issue.

But in our view this was absolutely the right thing to do: if a disaster starts to engulf you or you find yourself up against the wall, it’s always best to start with the truth.  After all, that’s where you’re going to end up. Tell it straight, don’t hide away, make decisions and ultimately protect your brand and reputation.